Brhadaranyaka Upanishad means the “great forest-book”. This Upanishad is one of the oldest of all the Upanishads. It consists of three sections or kandas: the Madhu kanda, the Yajnavalkya or the Muni kanda and the Khila kanda. Here the Brahman is portrayed as universal and undifferentiated consciousness. The doctrine of the indescribability of the absolute and the doctrine of ‘Neti, Neti’ are explained. This Upanishad concludes by stating the three virtues that one should practice i.e. self-restraint, giving, and compassion.
The Upanishad describes how in the beginning there was only Brahman. The Supreme Brahman finding himself all alone wishes to manifest himself and creates the entire universe. Not only does He create but He also takes part in His creation. Therefore Brahman is described as the Person present in every thing in the universe from the microcosm to the macrocosm.
In this Upanishad one finds the discourse between the sage Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi. Here the sage tries to explain to his wife Maitreyi, that Brahman is the universal and undifferentiated consciousness. This notion of the universal and undifferentiated consciousness of Brahman is well explained in the following verse:
It is – as a lump of salt cast in water would dissolve right into the water; there would not be any of it to seize forth, as it were, but wherever one may take, it is salty indeed – so, lo, verily, this great Being, infinite, limitless, is just a mass of knowledge.
The other attributes of Brahman that are described here are:
Brahman is the God of all the gods, He is imperishable, the Atman, which is present in a person, is also Brahman. When a man goes beOnd duality and is free from desires then he becomes one with Brahman. Becoming one with Brahman is man’s highest path, is his highest achievement, is his highest world and is his highest bliss.
In some of the verses it is also explained what happens to a person with desires. A person with good desires performs good deeds and the consequences are good; a person with bad desires performs bad deeds and the consequences are bad. As long as a person has desires, he is subject to endless cycles of births and deaths. This theory of karma is well illustrated by the following verse:
Where one’s mind is attached – the inner self
Goes thereto with action, being attached to it alone.
Obtaining the end of his action,
Whatever he does in this world,
He comes again from that world
To this world of action.
The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad starts with the description of the sacrificial horse used in the asvamedha sacrifice. The horse is described as follows:
The head of the sacrificial horse is verily the dawn; the eye of the horse is the sun; the vital force, the air; the open mouth, the fire named vaisvanara; the trunk, the year; the back, Heaven; the belly, the sky; the hoof, the earth; the flanks, the four directions; the ribs, the intermediate directions; the limbs, the seasons; the joints, the months and fortnights; the feet, the days and nights; the bones, the stars; the flesh, the clouds; the half-digested food (in the stomach), the sands; the arteries and veins, the rivers; the liver and spleen, the mountains; the hair, the herbs and trees; the forepart, the rising sun; the hind part, the setting sun. Its yawn is lightning, its shaking body is thunder, its making water is rain, its neighing is indeed speech.
(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.1.1)
Sri Chinmoy interprets this verse in the following manner:
“Why did the Upanishadic seers, the Vedic seers, speak of the horse and not any other animal as the symbol of sacrifice? They realized the speed of the horse, the dynamism of the horse, the faithful and devoted qualities of the horse. Speed is necessary, dynamism is necessary, faithfulness and devotedness are necessary to realize and reveal the Absolute. That is why they chose the horse for religious rites and for help in their awakening.
Just by sacrificing a horse we cannot gain any divine merit. Far from it. One does not have to make a horse sacrifice in this age. We must meditate on the qualities of the horse and invoke these divine qualities to enter into us from Above. The Vedic and Upanishadic seers did this. They succeeded in getting the divine qualities from the horse, and the result was that they entered into Brahmaloka, the highest Heaven.”